Community Interest

Augusta Brooms Incorporated

Compiled by Robert and Ellen Knoernschild from Town Board records

Augusta Brooms was started in December 1944 in the old wine hall as a way to increase employment in Augusta. It was financed with a $4300 loan from John Paul and his Bank of Dutzow; 152 shares at $10 each were also sold. Equipment was purchased from John McVey, who operated a one-person shop in Marthasville. The equipment cost $1300. Of this, $500 was paid upfront, and the rest was carried as a loan from Mr. McVey. He also trained the employees on the machinery to make the brooms.

Four types of brooms were made: Crown, Eagle, Fireside and Warehouse. The goal was to produce 100 dozen brooms per month, which they did in 1945. At first, the winders were paid by the hour like the other employees, at a rate of 50 cents an hour for men and 40 cents an hour for women. Winding the brooms was the slow part of the production line, so the winders were switched to a piecework basis. Their production increased considerably when this happened, creating pay inequities with the other workers, so the officers decided they were being paid too much. The rate was reduced from 15 cents to 8 cents per broom. Both men quit when the piecework rate for winders was reduced. They averaged 62 brooms daily on a piecework basis and 34 brooms when paid by the hour.

The salesman was paid a 10% commission. Brooms sold wholesale for $12.00 to $14.00 per dozen.

The broom corn was purchased from farmers in Montrose, Missouri, a small town southeast of Kansas City. The price was usually 15 cents per pound. It was shipped to Augusta on the Katy railroad. Later, broom corn was purchased from Louis Nadler and Walter Nadler in Augusta. Arnold Knoernschild also tried growing broom corn, but the straws were too short for some reason to make brooms. Broom corn is a type of sorghum and looks much like corn when it is growing.

Instead of tassels, the heads have long straws with seeds attached. The heads must be bent down by hand before the seeds are fully formed to keep the straws straight. They are then cut by hand and hung up to dry. Arnold Knoernschild built a machine to remove the seeds. This was a wooden drum with nails driven into it. The heads of the nails were cut off, making a series of small spikes. The seeds were pulled off when the straw was held against the rotating drum. Handles, wire and other supplies were purchased from St. Louis Broom Supply Company. Most of the brooms were sold, usually a dozen at a time, to general stores and hardware stores from Augusta to St. Louis and as far north as Hannibal.

The business had been organized as a corporation with eight officers and directors, but expenses exceeded income every year. The business was closed on April 30, 1948. John Paul and Mr. McVey lost most of their investment, and the small stockholders were not paid.